Review by Clark A.

With the original My Hero One’s Justice, developer Byking assembled a competent anime arena fighter. Its stylish comic book aesthetics harnessed My Hero Academia’s spirit and the combat system leveraged even the cast’s most eccentric superpowers. Much like series protagonist Midoriya Izuku, though, its untapped potential laid dormant. My Hero One’s Justice 2 is not the revolutionary sequel I dreamt of, but its tweaks and additions make it essential for anyone wishing to play the show. Moreover, it proves just how compatible this franchise is with arena fighters.

One’s Justice 2 passes up a golden opportunity to innovate its story mode by recycling the same blemished format as its prequel. It does present minor improvements however. The previous game was a triumph in using style to conquer budget. It presented portions of the anime’s plot using vibrant comic book panels oozing with charm, right down to the dotted ink. The panels here are livelier, boasting more transition effects, panning, and graphical splendour to capture Kohei Horikoshi’s vision of the series as a cross between western superhero comics and more traditional shounen action manga storytelling. Cutscenes are used sparingly but pop when they appear and have more care put into them than say, Jump Force. The character models and animations don’t set a new bar for the video game industry, yet the combination of commitment to art style and expressive characters once again make it exceptional.  I have no qualms about the presentation since, although simple, it provides an experience neither the anime or manga do.

The point of contention is the overall direction, which again is a marginal hobble forward. Because less material is being covered, the core Overhaul story arc (which remains the longest in the series to date) is moderately more cohesive and feels less like a random mishmash of events. Let me put emphasis on less. Taking place directly following the last game’s events, it does not skip ahead to the material the game is advertised around. This is an odd decision given that the last game only told choice portions of seasons 2 and 3; clearly picking and choosing isn’t an issue.

For the beginning of the game then, fights are manufactured in odd spots where there weren’t any for the sake of sloppily adapting “all” the material and providing some gameplay. I don’t recall Bakugou casually training with a gigantic, villainous Noumu sparring partner in class while his professors casually chatted. Likewise, scenes that provided five seconds of comedy relief now constitute actual brawls because those brawls had characters on the roster in them. The missions themselves are fairly straightforward and, despite having multiple subtasks for the player to complete if they want an S rank, can be completed with relative ease. This game’s story mode is ostensibly meatier but could have been better if it was shorter with more attention paid to setting up each fight.

The underlying issue is that One’s Justice 2 inertly reiterates a story with all its action set pieces but none of the dramatic weight. Much like a Ferrari can be retooled into a lawn mower, adapting poignant scenes into a dissimilar medium doesn’t make them inherently compelling. The gameplay segments should serve to enhance the strengths of the story. The central story the developers chose to adapt actually has a definitive beginning, middle, and end that would work for a standalone game but they opted to include much of the unnecessary fluff before it. Conveying the anime’s nuance through the video game medium was never going to be painless, but that doesn’t justify a half-cocked effort either.

It needlessly squanders a highly intriguing portion of the manga. Without veering too deep into the spoiler-laden specifics, let’s admire the great setup. As protagonist Izuku Midoriya finally starts to find his bearings and utilise his mentor’s powers in his own way, he meets an individual who triggers existential questions about his worth as a hero. His doubts are rooted not in lingering teenage insecurities but genuine concerns for the world’s future and his mentor’s legacy. Midoriya realises he has the agency to make the world a better place at the expense of his dreams. Through the newly introduced hero Togata Mirio, we see a gallant, plucky character that parallels Midoriya’s journey and provides emotional contrasts. The villainous Overhaul serves as the story arc’s obstacle and raises the stakes through lasting consequences. He may be a thoroughly repugnant individual with few redeeming qualities to his name, but his mission meaningfully broadens My Hero Academia’s world in several ways. The side character Eri similarly expands the world’s possibilities and experiences genuine growth despite her trauma. Absolutely none of this comes across well through the game’s dialogue and unless you already know the material there’s no sense of character traits at the most basic level. Focus on these four characters and it might’ve worked. It just wouldn’t highlight the game’s huge 40+ character roster particularly well.

Although many anime fans scowl at the notion of filler material, a theoretical One’s Justice 3 could leap beyond its forerunners by telling a self-contained story that flows in tandem with its chosen character roster and level design. There are numerous ways to make new material more compelling than what is offered here. For instance, Senko no Ronde 2 featured multiple groups of characters simultaneously driving the plot forward as players traversed an interactive web littered with visual novel and story missions. If telling a lengthy and interrelated tale is too onerous, it could tell multiple short stories grounded in the everyday lives of the characters. These scenes could convey the appeal of Horikoshi Kohei’s world to even non-fans with writing that is light-hearted but humorous.

The worst part? Without saying too much, this game’s final boss is far more ambitious than the previous game. It’s a fleeting moment where narrative and gameplay satisfyingly embrace one another, so imagining how the rest of the game could have been is downright tantalising. The options are endless and any more honest attempts at creativity like this one could have made One’s Justice 2 an enormous leap forward. Thankfully, the game does have more up its sleeve.

The game features an arcade mode with more trimmings than you’d expect. Each character has three paths and can fight opponents in different orders. It’s a decent way to gain money and accessories but there are also rewards to be won (particularly concept art if that tickles your fancy). After each battle, you’ll trade words with your opponent. While it doesn’t tell character specific stories per se, it does give them dialogue and characterisation after each fight. This is particularly interesting since many fight combinations involve characters that barely or never interacted during the anime. Automatically, this makes it an interesting alternative to the story mode that is straightforward action with fan service in every fight. Now, said dialogue isn’t as interesting as it could have been since with 40+ characters, some exchanges will come across as redundant or uninteresting. When they hit it big, though, they can be legitimately hilarious. In the best of scenarios, they shed a little light on how a character’s battle Quirk informs their own personality. Again, if the developers want a more compelling story mode, simply expanding these arcade mode conversations would be a viable alternative that encourages players to check out what every last side character has to offer.

Some franchises feel like they’ve been chosen to be arena fighters out of a sense of obligation or the sake of minimising development costs, even when straightforward 2D gameplay would go down just fine. One’s Justice 2 is not one of those games. It truly puts the arena back in the term “arena fighter”. Environments are teeming with personality and recreate areas from the show, complete with destructible objects and environments. You’ll be running on the walls, soaring through the air, and getting knocked through the floor. Yes, every inch of these maps is something to be actively experienced. They’re not just pretty backgrounds but carefully constructed vehicles through which you can act out the anime with the fascinating character move sets as your toys.

The previous game’s stages return with various tweaks, alongside brand new ones. The game features two versions of each stage, one usually in broad daylight and the other being pre-destroyed (representing the hero and villain dynamic of the show). Unlike the first game, which had “ring out” mechanics incorporated into trenches and dead space, this game forgoes them entirely. The combat tends to look more impressive inside buildings as a result. That said, the arenas are expansive enough that you won’t be caring much.

The last game was an arena fighter that offered casual button-mashing fun against computer opponents but came with a surprisingly deep meta for those willing to learn. The basic controls are simple enough like most games in the genre, not relying on complicated inputs but the player’s utilisation of the systems it presents. The game’s greatest strength lies in the individual characters. Every character truly feels unique and fun to control, with everything from their basic attacks and special moves to ranges and combos differing wildly from others. Many characters differ greatly from the previous game, in fact.

Characters are not archetypes that are cloned and tweaked and can even offer their own simple, self-contained systems with clear assets and drawbacks. Others can evolve during the fight, such as Toga Himiko channelling her bloody inner Kirby to become her opponent temporarily. Learning these different aspects and then building combos around them lets players escalate the action to new heights while fully appreciating how versatile Horikoshi Kohei’s delightful cast of characters can be. Just like the first game, character abilities in the show are transitioned smoothly into combat gimmicks that make them all valuable members of the roster. The new characters are particularly enticing. Fat Gum can access his skinnier form after expending energy, Suneater can use his tentacles to reach across the stage or soar through the air on his wings, and Lemillion can pop out from the ground. There’s a relentless degree of love and care put into making every character truly special so that you’ll want to experiment and learn their matchups.

The mechanics have been polished and adjusted, generally for the better. A new dodge system curiously absent from the previous entry adds an extra layer of mind games. It costs stamina but can turn fights around with the correct usage. Likewise, your assist characters can be used to set up or continue combos, catch opponents off-guard, or halt a rival’s combo pre-emptively. Assist characters now have super moves of their own and that means learning which one best suits your main character and opponent combination has weight in competitive matches. Character movements still have some float to them, but the movement is overall more accurate and fluid than most games of this genre. There’s plenty of rebalancing to oil up the existing gears, but these alterations stood out.

It’s still not a perfect gameplay system, but it’s sneaking its way there. There are occasional hiccups such as the camera not always snapping onto the fighters at certain distances, super attack animations dragging on a little too long, or the environmental damage clogging the view a tad, but most of what’s here feels even better. The first game laid down a solid foundation for an arena fighter. Here, I feel truly immersed in the battles themselves. Patches or a third game in this series could better refine the minor details of the formula, but One’s Justice 2 has largely already found its sweet spot for me. Its compelling action makes it a game I can see myself crawling back to more than the first.

Besides the aforementioned story and arcade modes, there’s also a tweaked approach to mission mode. Players can recruit their favourite heroes or villains by spending money earned throughout brawls in other modes. Each character meshes well or poorly with others, typically reflecting their relationships in the show. This is to say the virtuous Midoriya Izuku will not eat popsicles with Shigaraki Tomura, the man attempting to slaughter his mentor. You’ll then tackle other groups of heroes and villains in a gauntlet board that requires you to fight multiple opponents on one HP bar, levelling up your stats along the way. Your character moves around the board and the direction you pick can be important. I lamented in my last review that the mode wasn’t more customisable and thankfully the developers have delivered by offering symbols that strengthen your characters in unique ways much like the stickers in Super Smash Bros. The mode can still feel repetitive due to a lack of variety in board designs and context connecting the events. Nevertheless, the premise is solid and could be outright brilliant if some kinks are ironed out.

The game’s online mode is largely the same with minor improvements that partially cater to the competitive crowd without fully committing either. I mainly feel it would have benefitted from a traditional ranking system or at least one along the lines of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Global Smash Power system. Here, your position indicates how much you play, not the quality of your performance. When it comes to the online mode, though, half the fun isn’t just battling but decking out your character in all manners of impractical attire. This was a feature I appreciated enough in the original but the number of outfits has been greatly expanded. It’s certainly amusing to fight brightly coloured, Captain America-esque interpretations of villain characters.

Lastly, the game includes an oddball team battle mode where four players can participate at once, but it is heavily restricted by requiring local players with you (yes, even online). The sheer insanity of four players in tight quarters meant it was never going to be the gold standard for competitive play, but the choice not to make it more accessible is remains a scratcher as so few will touch it.

My Hero One’s Justice 2 is a straightforward expansion of the first game, offering new characters and stages galore. Although it relies on the same disappointing implementation of the anime’s story, the arcade mode compensates with humour. The refined arena fighting gameplay carries this one to being among the more unique anime arena fighters in recent years.  The sheer personality of each character might be enough for those vaguely interested in the My Hero Academia craze to give this one a shot.

Review code provided by publisher.

– Clark A.

This is the bio under which all legacy articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

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